Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Clio Barnard's THE ARBOR

My review of Clio Barnard's amazing documentary The Arbor is up on In Review Online. I've watched this film four times of the past 6 months and it continues to grow on me exponentially. As I mentioned in my halftime post, it is easily one of my favorite films of the year so far.

I gave The Arbor a four star review in the Star Tribune for an MSPIFF capsule, trying as hard as I could to maximize praise without fluff or hyperbole. Shortly after, I was randomly talking to a stranger at one of my various jobs about the films she had seen at MSPIFF, and she said, "Did you see that one...what was it called...it got a really good review...but really depressing!" I had to take responsibility and sort of explain myself beyond the 100 words I was allotted for the Strib. It seems fitting that I took the time to flesh out a longer review and am glad I did.

Although it has already passed the Twin Cities by, playing at MSPIFF a couple months ago, The Arbor comes out on DVD September 6. Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

MSPIFF wrap on In Review Online

Festival Coverage: Minneapolis St Paul 2011

If you thought you missed it, you probably didn't because it only recently went online a couple weeks ago...but, better late that never, my coverage for MSPIFF 2011 is up and available at In Review Online. Check out my thoughts on Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows, Federico Veiroj's A Useful Life, Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei, Mike Mills' Beginners, Jordan Scott's Cracks, Denis Cote's Curling, Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme and most importantly Sergei Loznitsa's My Joy - a film that nearly broadsided me with narrative surprise and dark ingenuity. And because Dan Dobbs was recently asking me why I liked My Joy so much, I'm re-posting my review here. This is for you Dan:

My Joy / Sergei Loznitsa. A kindred, chaotic spirit of Huang Weikai’s Disorder, Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy has a rigid Russian gloss that takes a traditional approach only if you watch a portion of the film’s random hopper of narratives. Although My Joy is made of two halves, those halves meander through various stories that each leave a lingering vapor trail to a much larger allegory. Corruption unapologetically blankets the film, trickling down from a history of authoritarianism and extreme conditions. Any kindness is met with an untrusting hostility that, at least within the gage of the film, is not unwarranted. But these vignettes, in their structural ambiguity, are anything but detached. Heavy with heartbreak and despair, each sequence is loaded with the components of profound social destruction and deranged malaise. My Joy opens with a mysterious corpse being covered in cement and ends with a shell-shocked murderer walking off into the darkness of night—although the literal connection is abstruse, the cyclical implication is crystal clear. The narrative is loosely structured around Georgy, a stolid truck driver, and the people he comes in contact with. Loznitsa and his cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who worked on The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, tell much of their story through the complex and sardonic ‘joy’ on peoples’ faces. As the camera takes an impromptu walk through a market crowd we see it all—anger, frustration, fear, judgment, distrust, hate—and, in this case, for no logical reason, only to trail off after a man in an unexplained panic. The disjunctive anatomy of My Joy may be an aggravation to some, but I found it entirely euphoric with extremely detailed elements of subtle surprise that I could have never predicted in my wildest dreams.

Check out the full coverage here.

And in case you are wondering here is a loose ranking of the films I saw at MSPIFF, from top to bottom:

My Joy
The Four Times
The Arbor
Nostalgia for the Light
Film Socialisme
The Interrupters
The Forth Portrait
13 Assassins
The Actresses
Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff
A Useful Life
Page One
Ticker & Dale Vs. Evil
The Green Wave
Home for Christmas
Happy Happy
Au Revoir Taipei
Position Among the Stars
Project Nim
Rio Sonata
White Meadows
Kinshasha Symphony
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
Dooman River
The First Beautiful Thing
Who Killed Chea Vichea?
A Cat in Paris
Small Town Murder Songs
Kawasaki’s Rose
Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film
Dossier K
Street Days
The Troll Hunter
Stake Land
Midnight Son
The Ugly Duckling
El Infierno

Monday, July 11, 2011

Best of 2011 - Halftime

The mid-year point is usually a time to do two things: 1) lament the summer movie season for all its empty-headed blockbusters, and 2) yearn for the Fall releases, typically far superior to Spring offerings, that are coming soon but not soon enough. Rarely is anyone extolling the virtues of a great year in film only six months in. But 2011 is a year of a different breed. For reasons that I can only speculate on, the first half of 2011 has been better, in terms of US releases, than most years in their entirety. And even though I still have more than a few releases in my unwatched column (most notably Of Gods and Men, Jane Eyre, Bridesmaids, Hanna, My Perestroika, Win Win, The Trip, Bill Cunningham New York, and Submarine), my 20 Best Films of 2011 cookie jar is already almost filled to the brim.

Normally, the year is laid out with strategic marketing logarithms. But traditional thinking, as I understand it, is to load the 'good films' (i.e. potential award winners) at the end of the year so those casting ballots will be likely to remember the critical, popular or promotional swell of a film. 'Good films' released at the beginning of the year, regardless of reception, are often forgotten about. (The best example of this happening recently is Scorsese's Shutter Island from last year, which I would contend was a great film that had award potential. But it didn't even register at the Golden Globes or Academy Awards. Further proof that those voting need to take better notes.)

What's different this year? Well, first of all, I think we can all agree that distribution tactics have been thrown up into the air with no clear understanding of how things will land. Studios struggling to make heads or tails of the benefit of various modes of attack—theatrical, on-demand and physical home formats—have started to break free from what we expect. This is especially true with distributors who specialize in foreign films or smaller independent films like IFC or Magnolia. They are aggressively exploring what it means to release films by non-traditional means: sometimes on-demand, sometimes in theaters and sometimes both.

Maybe even more prophetic to the stellar first six months of 2011 is a handful of even smaller distributors such as Kino Lorber, Cinema Guild, Oscilloscope, and Strand seem to have a much more radical approach: acquire the best films you can and release them. Period. And that's not to say they don't have a plan, but rather they work far outside of the confines of the majors and have quite a bit to show for it, especially in the first half of 2011. A look at my loosely arranged favorite 18 films of year so far reveals that 13 come from these smaller distributors: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Strand), Meek's Cutoff (Oscilloscope), Le Quattro Volte (Kino Lorber), The Arbor (Strand), Aurora (Cinema Guild), Putty Hill (Cinema Guild), Love Exposure (Olive Films), Poetry (Kino Lorber), United Red Army (Kino Lorber), Nostalgia for the Light (Icarus), Film Socialisme (Kino Lorber), Leap Year (Stand) and Tuesday, After Christmas (Kino Lorbor). Of the remaining five, four still come from modestly sized companies: Cold Weather, Certified Copy , Cave of Forgotten Dreams (all IFC) and 13 Assassins (Magnolia/Magnet). And only one, Tree of Life, bares the emblem of a large distributor, Fox Searchlight.

Of course, this all kind of makes sense. Many of the films that will land in the Fall that see both popular and critical success will be from some of the larger distributors who hold the line on cashing in on the awards season. The small distributors own the first half of 2011, and they may likely be the unsung heroes at the end of the year, as I don't see the lock they have on my attention wavering too much in the next six months. If that is true and if the majority of my favorite films so far end up being on my top 20 of the year, it means that many will be available if not on DVD or Blu-ray then some sort of VOD which could make the eventual lists of 2011, even the esoteric ones, more accessible than ever before.

So I say, long live the adventurous small distributors—fearless and inspired in their aquisitions—making 2011 extremely exciting! As distribution systems shift, morph and break down and as the most savvy consumers are just as willing to rip a movie from the internet than support the companies that champion them, Stand, Kino Lober, Cinema Guild, Oscilloscope, Olive, Icarus, and even back-from-the-dead New Yorker doggedly keep fighting the good fight to bring films to theaters and, more important to those not living in a major market, to home distribution.

Below are eighteen favorites, loosely arranged by preference, that hit US screens in the first six months of 2011 with notations on DVD/Blu-ray release dates if available and links for titles that I've actually written a little somethin' somethin' about:

  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand (DVD/Blu-ray July 12)
  • Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami, France (Available on demand through some cable providers)
  • Meek's Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt, USA (DVD/Blu-ray Sept 13)
  • Le Quattro Volte, Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy (DVD/Blu-ray Sept 13)
  • The Arbor, Clio Barnard, UK (DVD Sept 6)
  • Aurora, Cristi Puiu, Romania
  • Cold Weather, Aaron Katz, USA (DVD Aug 2)
  • The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick, USA
  • Putty Hill, Matthew Porterfield, USA
  • Love Exposure, Sion Sono, Japan
  • Poetry, Lee Chang-dong, South Korea (DVD/Blu-ray Aug 23)
  • United Red Army, Koji Wakamatsu, Japan
  • Nostalgia for the Light, Patricio Guzm├ín, Chile
  • Film Socialisme, Jean-Luc Godard, France
  • Leap Year, Michael Rowe, Mexico
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog, France
  • Tuesday, After Christmas, Radu Munteau, Romania
  • 13 Assassins, Takashi Miike, Japan (DVD/Blu-ray available now)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Trylon Premiere Tuesdays lineup

People have asked me what the theme is of the Tuesday film series at the Trylon, and logistically, they are films that we can afford to bring in for four shows that deserve to play in the Twin Cities. Outside of films that get locked in at Landmark, creative and adventurous programming of new films only happens at St. Anthony Main and the Walker. But with the Walker cutting back on many of its film programs and St Anthony radically shifting from week-to-week, it leaves a lot of holes, especially for some of the smaller indie and international releases. Ours is a modest but what I feel is an important contribution to the Twin Cities film scene. As a film fan, many of these films are ones that I would want to see come to town. Twin Cities premieres are certainly what we are striving for, but occasionally that is a white lie. Case in point, I was feeling pretty cruddy about living in a place that only gave Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (a film that I dearly love) one screening. Fortunately I was able to do something about that.

Thematically though, the films are all over the map. Nothing exemplifies this more than the next four films—a solid mixture of international drama that may be the best lineup we’ve ever had. Yes, I’m a little bit proud of myself. If I had tail feathers, they would be splayed.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to in the next couple of months and I hope you are too:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Tuesday, July 5 7:00 & 9:15

There are two more screenings of Uncle Boonmee and if I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times, in one way or another: don't miss this movie. The patience and simplicity of this mystical film make it unlike anything you've ever seen before. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film is a gentle and dreamy meditation on death and the magical possibilities of reincarnation. Boonmee is a man at the end of his life who is visited by spirits and visions of his past from the dense jungles of Northern Thailand.

Hadewich (2009)
France, dir. Bruno Dumont
Tuesday, July 12 7:00 & 9:15
Tuesday, July 19 7:00 & 9:15

Bruno Dumont has earned a reputation as a provocateur for the sake of provoking. But he pulls back ever so slightly with Hadewijch with a story about the incongruity between the blind faith most religions promote and the expectations of the modern world. Hadewijch is a young nun in training who is kicked out of the order because her faith is, ironically, too fervent. She returns to her bourgeois life in Paris and finds solitude with a group of men who have a passion for Allah that is equal for her passion for God. Hadewijch is an incredibly honest film even if it is allegorical and its message slight.

Caterpillar (2010)
Japan, dir. Koji Wakamatsu
Tuesday, July 26 7:00 & 9:00
Tuesday, August 2 7:00 & 9:00

Koji Wakamatsu last two films have recently gotten US releases. The first, United Red Army (2007), is an epic three hour critique on 1970s left wing politics in Japan. Caterpillar is conversely a commentary on the Right and the Nationalism that spawned the the revolutionary movement he depicted in United Red Army. At a mere 84 minutes, Caterpillar is a little more accessible not only in length, but also tone and style. (The possibility still remains that I might find a spot for United Red Army.) Loosely based on a banned short story by Edogawa Rampo, this period film tells the story of a soldier retuning from war a hero, but without his arms and legs. Caterpillar's potent metaphor is part horror film, part wartime drama.

World on a Wire (1973)
Germany, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Tuesday, August 9 7:00
Tuesday, August 16 7:00

Here's one I haven't seen yet, but am as excited as anyone to see it. Recently restored by Janus Films, we are thrilled to give this two screenings. From Janus' website: "A dystopic science-fiction epic, World on a Wire is German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gloriously cracked, boundlessly inventive take on future paranoia. With dashes of Kubrick, Vonnegut, and Dick, but a flavor entirely his own, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of reluctant action hero Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate and governmental conspiracy. At risk? Our entire (virtual) reality as we know it. This long unseen three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses." Yeah! Although World on a Wire is not up on the Trylon website yet, it will be up on the site by Monday. Buy your tickets in advance!

Tuesday, After Christmas (2010)
Romania, dir. Radu Muntean
Tuesday, August 23 7:00 & 9:00
Tuesday, August 30 7:00 & 9:00

Another chapter in the book of the Romanian New Wave, Tuesday, After Christmas is a sparse, pared down tale about a man's temptation to turn his back on his family. The story is nothing new, but the long-take exposition focusing on the natural performances of the two leads makes this one of the best films of the year. In the days leading up to Christmas, a married man forces himself to choose between his wife and his mistress. A sharply observed, deeply felt drama from director Radu Muntean, showcasing the strengths of current Romanian cinema in its beautifully calibrated performances, expert craftsmanship, and dazzling technical mastery. (This also is not up on the site yet, but will be soon.)

Check out the full calendar of Take-Up.
And Trylon Premiere Tuesdays.